Citing the protection of the environment as their cause, UCSB has removed paper towels from several dormitory bathrooms on campus. This is just the first step in a larger plan that aims to banish all disposable squares of absorbent paper from campus dorm restrooms. Instead, students are supposed to carry around little blue and gold hand towels each time they go to the bathroom. Citing logic as my cause, this is a terrible idea.

Members of the “UCSB Paper Towel Free Project” doled out small, blue hand towels embroidered with the words “UCSB Zero Waste” in yellow to certain students who are now expected to carry the hand towels to the lavatory every time they go. The paper towel dispensers that used to hang in the targeted areas now sit empty and unused. The pilot project — launched in the fall — is designed to help save the environment and meet the lofty and unrealistic goal of the University of California system to become zero waste by 2020. However, it remains to be seen whether the hygiene habits of the average college student, who probably hasn’t washed his or her sheets since summer, will allow this plan to work without some serious side effects.

The fact is that taking away the paper towels that some 5,000 freshmen and sophomores living in campus dorms use is unrealistic and downright unsanitary. After these students have done their business and touched just about everything in the bathroom, asking them to remember to not only bring, but use and then wash these hand towels is too much entirely. If the students can remember to bring them, using these towels probably isn’t so bad. But give it a week or two without washing and it’s going to smell, give it another two and it’s going to stink — that’s not better for anyone, that’s just gross.

So, once the towel has been filled with bacteria, what happens when students either don’t wash their hands because there’s nothing to dry their hands with or wash their hands and dry them on someone else’s? Bacteria spreads — germs spread. At a campus still reeling from a serious meningitis outbreak, is this really a smart idea? No. But why not use hand dryers? They’re environmentally sound, hygienic and convenient, but apparently too noisy, according to these intrepid student environmentalists spearheading the first phase of the pilot project.

Apparently they didn’t have the budget for super-quiet or low-energy dryers that are so common these days, but somehow they do have the funds to buy Gaucho-blue towels for everyone. Granted towels are likely cheaper, but they’re also a waste if they end up molding in the corners of various bedrooms, much like every other hand towel any college student has ever owned.

Residence Hall Association President Andrew Soriano claims the amount of money spent on the project is comparable to the amount of money spent on filling and refilling paper towels in an academic year. Never mind that this change is going to impose an extra burden on students or that nowadays paper towels are generally made from recycled paper or that unbleached recycled paper towels can be thrown in separate containers to be commercially composted. At least students will have pretty little blue towels that they can throw in their closets and forget about.

But in this liberal Southern California city of Santa Barbara — where the City Council recently voted unanimously to ban plastic grocery bags — sometimes practicality and logistics get sacrificed in the pursuit of idealistic goals. As for this pilot project, it hardly seems like something more than a symbolic step for the campus at the expense of the student body. Also, the initial participants who are testing this system for everyone, were residents of the environmental floors … Hardly seems fair that some of the most environmentally dedicated kids at the school are supposed to model how this system would work on the average, dorm-dwelling college student. A random sample of dorms would definitely have been a better indication.

But as RHA President Soriano said, “Students are given full autonomy when given their towel.” Thankfully, according to Soriano’s aforementioned quote, with this new hand towel students no longer answer to anyone — an unexpected side effect of using hand towels. If that really is the case, I’ll take a hand towel over paper towels any day. Somehow, though, I get the feeling that “full autonomy” is limited to the realm of hand-drying. What I believe Soriano is trying to tell you is that, with the hand towel, you can now choose if you want wet or dry hands, because you couldn’t before, apparently.

As a student that lives on campus at UCSB and uses dorm restrooms, I cannot see this project working successfully — it will cause more harm than good. If UCSB were to work on developing better recycling technologies, rather than create projects that present more consequences than benefits, residential housing would be better off.

Thankfully, the committees involved — UCSB’s Residence Hall Association, Associated Students Zero Waste Committee and Housing & Residential Services — still consider this a test project. That being the case, throw this idea in the recycle bin.

Austin Yack is all about having dollalalala lotsa paypa.


Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are primarily submitted by students.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, January 30, 2014 print edition of the Daily Nexus.